How to Design a Shrub Border

Written by lisa parris | 13/05/2017
How to Design a Shrub Border
Use shrubs to outline and define your space. (John Keatley/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Many people have a natural desire to mark their territory with clear, unquestionable boundaries. Well-defined borders give homeowners a sense of seclusion and security, but above all, allow them to lay claim to an area and call it their own. Traditional shrub borders are created by placing plants such as beech, boxwood and yew around the edges of an area. As the shrubs grow, the dense foliage creates a thick wall, enclosing the space and sheltering it from the outside world. Borders can be placed anywhere privacy is desired on the property -- along property lines, next to the house foundation, or surrounding a deck or patio.

Measure the plot the border will be enclosing with a standard measuring tape. Add the length to the width, then multiply the result by two to establish the length of a four-sided hedge. Make deductions for entrances, gates, paths and walkways.

Draw a sketch of the area on a large sheet of graph paper. Use the grids to establish a scale. For example, ¼ inch on the graph paper can represent 1 square foot of yard space. Be sure to include topographical features such as trees, and make a note of any hills or steep slopes. Design classic borders using straight lines and sharp corners. Curve the border's outlines to form an appealing, informal hedge.

Add shrubs to the sketch. Create formal hedges by placing a single type of shrub around the periphery. Plan to space the plants 12 to 18 inches apart. As they grow, the branches will interconnect, forming an impenetrable wall of dense, twiggy growth. Use a variety of plants for an informal border, spacing them 24 to 36 inches apart. Arrange them in small clusters or staggered lines so they grow into a thick, shaggy barrier.

Take the sketch to the local garden centre, and use it as a guide during the shrub selection process. Choose traditional boxwood or other small-leaved shrubs to create straight, classic borders; they respond well to repeated clipping and shaping. For a more casual approach, combine different types of shrubs, creating an ever-changing display of flowers, foliage, berries and bark. Combine spring- flowering shrubs with evergreens, or mix summer-flowering shrubs and modern shrub roses, to add several seasons worth of colour to the yard.


A tall, formal border offers privacy, but it may be out of place in a small yard. Keep scale in mind when designing hedges and borders.

Tips and warnings

  • A tall, formal border offers privacy, but it may be out of place in a small yard. Keep scale in mind when designing hedges and borders.

Things you need

  • Measuring tape
  • Graph paper

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